When I was young, every January 6th morning, we would eat a piece of king cake at my grandmother’s house in Spain. She called it the “breakfast for kings and queens.” She used to tell us that the shepherds brought these round cakes as gifts to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on Epiphany Day morning (also when the 3 Kings-men arrived to bear their gifts), so we follow the tradition by eating a piece of king cake on that day.
In New Orleans, king cakes are sold everywhere between the first of January through Mardi Gras. I like to make my own at home and get my kids involved. There are few things that smell better than sweet bread baking in the oven.
The recipe is a simple sweet bread (brioche-like) recipe. Braiding the dough can be a little tricky, but we are going after the homemade taste not the perfection of it all. You can also make this king cake gluten-free with this recipe.
My kids love to help out in the kitchen, so I have to assign a “task.” Alex frosted the cake, and Sofia decorated it with sprinkles. While a typical king cake is glazed with purple, green, and yellow sugar glaze, they wanted sprinkles only, so sprinkles are what we used. The end result is happy kids, so that’s all that matters!
Happy Mardi Gras! – King Cake
- 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 package, 2 ¼ teaspoons Rapid Rise yeast
- 1 cup milk, 120º to 130º
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 12 pieces
- ⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup powdered, confectioners sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Mix 2 ½ cups flour and yeast in mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment, on low for about 30 seconds.
- Heat milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and milk is between 120º to 130º.
- With mixer on low, pour in liquids and mix until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Clean off paddle and switch to dough hook. Mix in the remaining 1 cup flour a little at a time, adding more or less flour as needed to make a soft dough. Add the softened butter, a piece at a time, kneading until each piece of butter is absorbed.
- Knead for eight minutes on low. The dough should completely clear the sides of the bowl. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more flour is needed. If the dough seems too dry, spritz with water from a spray bottle a couple of times, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more water is needed. Every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to be sure it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball. Place dough into a greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- While the dough is chilling, make cinnamon filling. Combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Combine butter with cinnamon mixture and mix well.
- Roll the chilled dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Pat dough down firmly so the dough will stick together. Cut dough into three long strips. Press the tops of the strips together and braid the strips. Press the ends together at the bottom. Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle/oval and press the edges together. If desired, hide the miniature plastic baby in between the ends of the circle before sealing together in a ring. (You can also make a slit in the bottom of the cake and put the baby in after the cake is baked.)
- Transfer the ring to a parchment lined or greased baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350º. Bake the cake until it is golden brown, 20 – 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes on baking sheet and then place it on a cooling rack to cool completely before icing.
- Icing: In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth (add additional milk if mixture is too thick or powdered sugar if too thin).
- Spoon icing over top of the cake. Immediately sprinkle on colored sugar, alternating between the three colors.